The eagle with the olive branch on the patch is familiar. Evenly brown with the recognizable white head and tail. But this bird is not representative of his mission. No, this bird should have been speckled with white, the sign of an immature bird facing much risk in its young life.
Altair is a vertex in the Summer Triangle in the Aquila constellation. It is most notable for its extreme rapid rotation. How fitting! In astrology, Altair is ill-omened, portending danger from reptiles (named Marsha?).
And so the Lunar Surface Access Module now has a new name. And that, unfortunately, is about all of significance revealed at yesterday's Lunar Lander Industry Day at JSC.
Lauri Hansen and her speckled brown team showed a design that does not close. A "minimum functionality lander." After spending six months with 50 minions from all of the field centers she was only able to offer a product that was less descriptive than an aerospace design class in Neil Armstrong's new building at Purdue would have produced. The professor would have handed out a D- on this one. Stack up this lander next to the original Grumman LEM, adjust for scale differences, and this lander has less capability than its 40 year old parent. By Hansen's own admission, the lander has no redundancy, meets none of the space program's latter day safety requirements, and will now be open to investment, errr, we mean review, by four industry teams, each receiving $350K to tell NASA what a crummy job they did.
But, is there a bigger message lurking behind Hansen's cartoons? We think so. In fact, Hansen may succeed where Skip Hatfield failed. If she is successful, the Emperor will have been told that he has no clothes, and even if he did cover up, no one is missing much. How will she do this?
We think Hansen and her team figured out that the ESAS architecture is broke and this pitiful lander design was her way of telling the world while saving her job. You could hear that message coming through loud in clear in their voices as they walked down the list of "closed trades," items that could not be changed by mandate from the Emperor. Each one of the closed trades are giant levers in the pony-tailed architecture. First and foremost, having the lander perform the lunar injection burn, and then carrying the now mostly empty parasitic tank mass to the surface, is one of those big levers. We can't think of a less efficient way of performing the job of landing humans on the surface of the moon once again. Want to bet the "usually eager to copy" Chinese don't follow this path?
We hope we are right about Hansen. We won't remember this particular lander design, but we may just remember her name in 2020 if our optimistic point of view is correct.